Last season was a rough one for the Spartans. The squad struggled through the Big Ten slate, nabbing just five conference wins and finishing dead last in the standings.
Team chemistry plays an important role in Michigan State hockey's early success
“We’ve always had a good room here — that’s been a strength of ours,” Michigan State hockey Head Coach Danton Cole said. “I think that was something that, in terms of being a strength, was taken away a bit last year.”
Over a third of the way through the year, it looks like this Michigan State squad is a vastly improved unit. They are 9-6-1, with a 4-4 record in conference play.
Part of that improvement has been the newfound ability to bond off the ice as well.
“That’s what was missing a lot last year with COVID,” senior defenseman Dennis Cesana said. “We weren’t able to hang out as a team a lot, and do things together. It’s nice to get that back and create bonds with everyone. I think we’re a lot closer this year.”
This season’s COVID-19 protocols allow for significantly more freedom off the ice, with most rules relating to game day/in-game situations. A year ago, the roster was regulated to strictly hockey-related activities. Often, the only interactions teammates would have with one another were in practice or on gameday — or even worse, Zoom meetings.
The Spartans are taking advantage of their newfound freedom this year. A couple of weeks ago, members of the team attended Michigan State football’s final home game of the season against Penn State. A group also went bowling the following day.
“You want the guys to be around each other,” Cole said. “You want them to hangout. ... It’s the spontaneous, organic things where you’re out and you’re together.”
Michigan State’s team chemistry cannot be quantified by stats, but winning is certainly a good indicator. Perhaps the best example of this team’s synergy came on Nov. 13 in Big Rapids. Down 3-0 to Ferris State halfway through the second, MSU battled back in the final two periods to secure a thrilling 4-3 comeback victory.
The schedule only gets harder moving forward. Five of MSU’s next six games are against top-ten opponents, including the Big Ten powerhouse Minnesota Golden Gophers. Michigan State will have to rely on that mental toughness and chemistry to overcome such a talented roster, and so far, the Spartans have illustrated they have plenty of both.
“It’s great to know everybody cares about each other on and off the ice,” senior goaltender Drew DeRidder said. “Everyone’s gonna fight for that guy next to him.”
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